‘Invite me over. I can’t sleep,’ Nikolai had texted her.

Rage ripped through her like a cleansing flame. She wanted to reply with something scornful, but she did not want him to know that she was lying awake as well. So she got back into bed without replying, the race of her heartbeat and the sensual tingling now banished by shame and the conviction that such responses were a shocking sign of her weak lack of self-control. As she lay dreaming up scornful replies that she might have made, she finally fell uneasily asleep.

At eight the next morning, Caroline phoned Abbey in a state and told her that Drew hadn’t come home the night before and wasn’t answering his mobile phone. The two women discussed whether or not it was too soon to inform the police, but before they could make a decision on that Drew finally called Caroline on her mobile and the emergency was over.

‘I had a few drinks too many and slept on the sofa in my office,’ her brother confided, when Abbey arrived at Support Systems later that morning. ‘Caroline had no need to make such a fuss! She contacted practically everyone we know to ask if they’d seen me—’

‘Your wife was worried sick about you. You should have phoned. Is that what you do when you go out these evenings—go out drinking alone?’

An angry flush on his thin face, Drew gave her a resentful look. ‘No, as it happens. I have a group of friends I usually hang out with. Mind your own business, Abbey!’

Sveta phoned and told Abbey she had an appointment at a fashion salon just before lunch. A copy of her contract had been couriered over to the legal firm Support Systems used. Abbey went through it with their solicitor and signed it. She made use of what was left of the morning to check out the properties in the City of London. Uncovering various drawbacks, she removed some of them from the list, revised her short presentation and received new information from two agents.

Sveta greeted her when she emerged from the limousine to keep their appointment and escorted her into the exclusive salon where her measurements were taken and an array of fantastic clothes was paraded by models for her benefit. Garments for every possible occasion were selected by the stylist present, who promised to locate the right accessories to go with the outfits and urged Abbey to make a personal choice from the gorgeous collection of silk, tulle and lace underwear that was laid out for her examination. In all, the acquisition of a new wardrobe entailed a display of jaw-dropping extravagance that shook Abbey to her conservative core.

‘Does Nikolai often make over-the-top gestures like this?’ she asked Sveta.

‘Nikolai is one of a kind,’ Sveta responded with diplomacy. ‘I have never met his equal.’

Nikolai phoned Abbey and said he would pick her up at her apartment in an hour. ‘I have a property presentation to give you,’ Abbey protested.

‘I’ll look at it in the limo,’ he promised.

‘But where are we going?’

‘A jeweller’s. I want you to wear diamonds at the premiere tomorrow night.’

Colour in her cheeks, violet eyes bright and her red-gold hair tied back at her nape with a green ribbon, she got into his limousine clutching her laptop PC. His dark eyes brilliant, Nikolai took in her brown trouser suit and green and white polka-dotted shirt with a frown. ‘You didn’t dress up,’ he noted.

‘I’m still in work mode. Time enough to get dressed up tomorrow,’ Abbey fielded, intimidated by his aura of unbridled energy and his immediate criticism. It was no consolation that he looked amazingly elegant and sexy in his tailored charcoal-grey business suit and blue silk tie. Her breath caught in her throat, her pulses starting to pound.

‘You must be the only woman I’ve ever met who wouldn’t dress up to try on diamonds.’

Abbey banged her laptop down on the space on the leather seat between them. ‘Look, do you want me to go and get changed?’ she asked in exasperation.

‘No, you’ll do.’

‘You got the wrong idea about me when you saw me in that fashion show. I’m an ordinary working woman. I don’t fuss about my appearance and change my clothes several times a day. I haven’t got the time or the interest—I’ll never be the kind of decorative woman you’re used to being around,’ Abbey warned him impatiently.

‘But you’re so beautiful that you will still outshine every woman around you,’ Nikolai murmured with an amount of conviction that astonished her. ‘Show me the properties you’ve selected.’

Abbey opened the laptop. It was soon obvious that he wasn’t impressed or interested in any of the properties and her professional pride took a battering as a result. She decided to consult Sveta again.

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